Alumni trips vs Donor Trips: are they really one and the same…?

Alumni travel and donor travel have some essential differences in the type of participants they attract. 

I recently met with a colleague from my university days and talked shop over some Portland coffee. He now works at a large university as a major gift officer. We spent quite some time talking about something that is unique to fundraising in higher education: alumni trips. This, of course, is very distinct from what happens in my neck of the woods: donor trips.

But wait, aren’t the donors to the university usually also alumni? And many alumni are also donors. So, aren’t alumni trips basically donor trips?

Having spent my career in both higher education and the NGO/humanitarian aid sector, I can point out some pretty major differences between alumni trips and the typical fundraising trip that nonprofits do with their donors.

Alumni trips attract people who want access to an exotic experience they cannot have on their own. They want VIP treatment that includes off-the-beaten-path excursions that are not in guidebooks and often unknown or off-limits to regular tourists. They want faculty knowledge and insight on critical global issues. Their motivation informs the itinerary, which provides them exotic experiences, faculty lectures, and fairly high-end accommodation. When they travel, they are not seeing the mission of the university or the impact of any money they give. They want to enjoy their time with other alums and have experiences they would otherwise not be able to access.

Donor trips, when well-executed, attract a different sort of participant. They are motivated by an organization’s mission. They want to see injustice righted; they want to see lives saved and resources conserved. They are most passionate about the cause, not the novelty of a new exotic experience. They also want knowledge and insight, but not from an academic who lives in the States and travels once a year to the site—they want to hear from people “on the ground,” who are living the mission every day. These donors may be used to luxury accommodations in their personal travel, but that’s not their motive here. They want behind-the-scenes access to the work, not an escape to a secluded resort. They are traveling to see an organization’s mission in action and to see the impact of their gifts.

Even though there are considerable variations among each kind of trip, this chart below outlines some of the basic differences between the two:

Alumni Trips

Download this Alumni Trips Guide as a PDF.